Friday 28 October 2016

‘Government thinks of the arts as some sort of optional decorative extra’ – Lenny Abrahamson slams arts policy

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 19/05/2016 | 10:04

Lenny Abrahamson
Lenny Abrahamson
Heather Humphreys
Gripping: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in a scene from Room

Irish film director Lenny Abrahamson has criticised the Taoiseach for using the arts as a “photo op” and called for a dedicated Arts Minister to be appointed.

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There has been a significant backlash since Heather Humphreys’ ministerial brief was extended to include Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht and people have been voicing their issues on Twitter via the #ArtsDeptNow hashtag.

The Oscar nominee added his voice to the conversation on Twitter last night, writing that the level of support for Irish artists was “shamefully low” and that “despite all the lip service, it's clear from lack of action that the Irish political class neither understands nor values the arts.”

He appeared on RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland to discuss the issue further.

Heather Humphreys
Heather Humphreys

“Somebody described it as a kind of ‘Frankenstein department’. Having a dedicated department purely for Arts and Heritage is the best way of guaranteeing a strong voice for the arts at the Cabinet table.

“I think it had already been considered a second-class ministry, and that was something we needed to fight against, and now to have its status further reduced is just really depressing at a time when I think we have a real opportunity to build on the investment of the past,” he said.

He added that he has “nothing personal” against Ms Humphreys, and that she is a “very decent person”, noting that she had responded to him on Twitter.

However, he went on: “When money gets tight, the arts get pushed to the back of the queue.”

“There is the potential I think to create a really world-class industry in film and television and animation. The quality is manifestly there and we have been punching above our weight internationally, but if proper and strategic investment was made, that could be grown.

“There’s this idea the government still seem to have of the arts as some sort of optional decorative extra that you can add to when there’s a few quid swilling around and pull out when there’s not,” he said.

Following an extraordinary year when Irish films earned a record nine nominations at the 2016 Academy Awards, the Dubliner expressed concerns that funding will be affected.

He also questioned whether Ms Humphreys would be able to make as strong a case for the arts at the Cabinet table with so many other duties to take care of.

Gripping: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in a scene from Room
Gripping: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in a scene from Room

“After having just had a successful year in film and television, the industry is ready to be developed and culture is what we’re well known for,” he said.

“It’s very galling to see the work of artists used as a kind of photo opportunity by politicians who at the same time are demonstrating no sense of the value of the work that they’re praising.”

An online petition, 'Irish, Arts, Culture & Heritage Needs Adequate Funding & A Dedicated Government Department', created by John O'Brien, has already achieved almost 11,000 of 15,000 signatures.

One individual wrote, "I have worked in Community Arts in Ireland for over 20 years, and I am really sick of successive governments rolling out Irish Culture and Artistic excellence at every opportunity, while all the while making it harder and less attractive for anyone to want to work in the Arts in Ireland."

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